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The University of Southampton

Undergraduates share the excitement of advanced lab experiments

Published: 11 August 2014

Third year Chemistry students are now being challenged to develop their laboratory skills to an advanced level through a new module stretching across two semesters.

In the first semester undergraduates will tackle five experiments in electrochemistry, organic synthesis, metal/organic frameworks, X-ray crystallography and computational chemistry, and select three from five others available in the second semester; all involve learning the latest techniques and working alongside leading academics in these specialist areas.

The experience will prove a good grounding for careers in science, whether in research or industry. “Student experiments for first and second years are closely controlled and we know what should be achieved,” explains Dr Simon Coles. “In these advanced practicals, students will be working more independently in the laboratory; they will be taking more responsibility for their decisions and the outcomes of those choices.”

Feedback from students taking part in the experiments included “The crystallography practical was a great way for us as undergraduates to be able to perform something which we had never done in practice before” and “The hands-on approach to the experiment really allowed us to further our understanding of the technique as well as increasing our overall analytical ability in lab work.” A poster explaining the concept will be presented at the Congress and General Assembly of the International Union of Crystallography in Montreal in August 2014.

Simon, who heads the UK National Crystallography Service, leads the experimental sessions in his subject.  Students will be able to use a sophisticated and dedicated new single crystal diffractometer from specialist manufacturer Rigaku, which is similar to cutting-edge equipment used in industry. “We believe Southampton is the first university in the UK to make this £100,000 machine available for undergraduate work,” he adds.

Simon’s experiment will also require students to record their work on electronic lab notebooks; again industry-standard practice. “Research scientists and professionals in chemical and pharmaceutical companies are obliged to keep detailed accounts of their work for intellectual property and patent requirements so it makes sense to introduce them to this discipline early,” says Simon.


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